I’ve been following the RepRap movement (DIY Rapid Prototyping machines also known as 3d printers) for at least 3 years now. MSOE had several of the commercial units that I drooled over frequently, but never got a chance to dig deeper into. Thus, I’ve been aware of the technology for nearly 15 years now. But it’s been 3 years that I’ve seriously considered actually owning one for myself. I’ve not jumped in for fear that the learning curve is a bit too steep for me. Electronics, mechanics, software programming, etc.
The 3d printing world has evolved very quickly to the point where you can now purchase ready-to-run (RtR) kits, and fully assembled ready-to-run hobbiest level products. The technology that most people are focusing on basically is a robotic hot glue gun melting rolls of weed-wip string (to use a very simplistic view of the process).
I was fully intending to purchase a Makerbot.com Thing-O-Matic (ToM) with this year’s tax returns. They seem to be the current high-publicity player in the RtR and fully assembled scene. They are basically kicking butt and taking names when it comes to press coverage. However, when I had enough money in the bank, I couldn’t order the machine I wanted. They did a little too good of a job, having all their printers listed as out of stock. (Although, as I write this post, I can again order the ToM from their website. Oohps, silly them. Their loss.
A panicked and sent a couple of messages to a fellow in-the-works 3d-print-fan. He sent me a couple of links for places to start looking for good alternatives that where in my price range.
I settled on a style called a RepRap Prusa Mendal. This is basically the current most popular of the ‘hacker’ or ‘tinkerer’ machines. The format is about 3 years old now, so it’s pretty mature as far as these things go. Most of the bugs have been worked out of them, and there is lots of examples of other people building them and having solved the problems you are likely to encounter.
I looked around, and I could find kits that I could order NOW from India, Singapore, and Ohio among other places that listed them at higher prices than I was willing to pay. The one from Ohio was the most expensive of the ones I considered of course, but came with stainless steel hardware, brass bushing instead of plastic ones, quality bearing sets, and the like. They also appeared to have the most responsive tech support of the three. Additionally, it seems like lots of people are buying individual component kits from them and using them on other maker’s machines, which is a good signal as to their quality.
So I ordered a Prusa Mendal RepRap kit from MakerGear.com.
2-3 weeks for delivery… I feel like a little kid on Christmas eve but on groundhogs day… for 14 to 21 days…
People ask me what can I do with it. I read online that this is like a similar question 30 years ago when people asked what can you do with a personal computer… Why, anything I want!
First off, it can print out all the plastic bits that are used to make itself, so I will be printing a set or two of those for myself for spares. Instead of buying all those cheap plastic bits called kid’s toys, I will print them out for my little girl – no lead paint in these! And in a few years, she can design her very own! I can print the wall grommets so I can run the TV wires through the wall to hide them – these only cost a couple of bucks to buy, and probably half that to print, but I don’t have to burn gas to go get them. A big one for me is that I can start printing some custom fittings for my aquaponics setups.
I see these 3d printers as another disruptive technology. As big of a deal as Ford’s Model T and the production line. 100 years later, we have the technology to get away from the mass produced model of making things. We can make a lot of the little things we need in our own homes again. This is a really big deal.
I can see that by the end of this decade, I will have a recycling & manufacturing center in my basement. I will sort and wash my recyclables and put them into a machine the size of my fridge (or smaller) and out comes useful things, on demand.
How do I know I am going to have one of these things? Because I am going to make it for myself..